Monday, May 9, 2016

Walking tours in Tainan

There’s nothing like being shown around by someone who both speaks your language well, and knows the area like the back of his or her hand. But even in Taiwan, where locals often go out of their way to greet and help visitors from afar, you’re unlikely to meet such a person by chance. Fortunately for tourists, walking tours are catching on. One organization which has taken it upon itself to organize regular pedestrian excursions is My Tainan Tour, backed by Tainan City Government. 

For more than two centuries until the 1880s, Tainan served as Taiwan’s administrative capital. It retains a stupendous density of historical and cultural attractions: When Tainan natives say, ‘there's a major temple every five steps, a minor shrine every three,’ they’re hardly exaggerating. 

My Tainan Tour currently offers two walks. The ‘Classic Tour’ takes explorers to the city’s sublime Confucius Temple, what’s now the National Museum of Taiwan Literature, and then the Altar of Heaven (aka Tiantan), a lively place of worship. The fourth and final stops represent, respectively, the Qing era and the Japanese period. The former is the early 19th-century Wu Garden. The latter is Hayashi Department Store. An always-bustling emporium which exudes traditional Japanese refinement, it has three features probably no other department store in the world can boast - an elevator with a mosaic floor, a restored rooftop Shinto shrine [shown above] and scars from World War II air raids.

The 'Local Life Tour' is less concerned with relics and more with how Tainan folk go about their lives. It's a stroll through a cluster of narrow thoroughfares around 700m northwest of Hayashi Department Store. The most famous of these is Shennong Street, much-loved and -photographed on account of its antique appearance. Largely intact traditional two-story houses with tiled roofs and wooden upper floors line both sides of the street.

Both tours last around two hours, depending on how fast you walk, how many questions you ask, and how many detours you make. 

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